There was a reason why nearly everyone outside the Bluegrass State was pulling for Kansas on Monday night. As the final buzzer sounded and Kentucky began to celebrate in the New Orleans Superdome, it seemed like everything wrong with college athletics had been rewarded with a National Championship. But would Nerlens Noel represent the same thing if he chose Syracuse?
We look back nostalgically at Michigan’s “Fab Five” or Duke’s back-to-back dynasty as groups of players who were identifiable for years with a program. There were no one-and-done’s even for the hot shot Wolverines of the ’90s, Chris Weber stayed for two seasons. In an era when player movement in professional sports is at an all-time high, college athletics has the potential to serve as a friendly escape.
The NBA is filled with mercenaries looking for their next contract, and that concept is supposed to be different in college. Players form lifetime bonds with teammates and their school during what many call the best years of their lives. Fans develop similar attachment to the athletes. Orange Nation wanted to give Scoop Jardine a giant collective hug after the emotional loss to Ohio State.
Jardine and Kris Joseph (and hundreds of other seniors every year) spend several years working their tails off, growing on the court and off it, for a chance at the ultimate goal of winning a National Title. But almost all college hoops experts expect N2 to drop onto a college campus for one season, dominate the paint and show glorious upside, then pack his bags for the draft.
Kentucky swaggered into the dance with a band of rent-a-freshman superathletes, and completely wiped out the competition. Most of them presumably used UK as nothing more than a steppingstone to the NBA, under the premise John Calipari runs a better one-year factory than anyone else. Kentucky only had one upperclassman in its seven-man rotation, and the same will probably be the case next year, with another new cast of characters – maybe including Noel.
Think that’s wrong? Immoral? Bad for the game?
You might be right. But before you go too far with that notion, think back to 2003. Freshman Carmelo Anthony led Syracuse to its first National Championship, and promptly left for the NBA. He certainly developed a bond with the school. Years later, the impressive Melo Center helps pull in bigtime recruits. But his focus once second semester began was basketball, and then making his way to the NBA.
On Wedneday, top recruit Noel will choose between the Orange, the Wildcats and Georgetown. If he pulls a Carmelo (and not a Fab Melo), steps on campus to help push a young Syracuse team to the Final Four a year from now then bolts for the pro riches, you won’t hear many Central New Yorkers complaining.
John Calipari is a slimeball. It’s fair to despise his National Championship and multiple vacated Final Fours. But he’s merely taking advantage of a system that’s already in place, and clearly the one-and-done model works. If Nerlens decides on Orange next week, we can only hope it works just as well for Jim Boeheim next year.
Posted: Andrew Kanell